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Main > German folktales > Fairy tale "Gaffer Death"

Gaffer Death

There was once a poor man who had twelve children, and he was obliged to labour day and night that he might earn food for them. When at length, as it so happened, a thirteenth came into the world, the poor man did not know how to help himself, so he ran out into the highway, determined to ask the first person he met to be godfather to the boy.

There came stalking up to him Death, who said—

"Take me for a godfather."

"Who are you?" asked the father.

"I am Death, who makes all equal," replied the stranger.

Then said the man—

"You are one of the right sort: you seize on rich and poor without distinction; you shall be the child's godfather."

Death answered—

"I will make the boy rich and renowned throughout the world, for he who has me for a friend can want nothing."

Said the man—

"Next Sunday will he be christened, mind and come at the right time."

Death accordingly appeared as he had promised, and stood godfather to the child.

When the boy grew up his godfather came to him one day, and took him into a wood, and said—

"Now shall you have your godfather's present. I will make a most famous physician of you. Whenever you are called to a sick person, I will take care and show myself to you. If I stand at the foot of the bed, say boldly, 'I will soon restore you to health,' and give the patient a little herb that I will point out to you, and he will soon be well. If, however, I stand at the head of the sick person, he is mine; then say, 'All help is useless; he must soon die.'"

Then Death showed him the little herb, and said—

"Take heed that you never use it in opposition to my will."

It was not long before the young fellow was the most celebrated physician in the whole world.

"The moment he sees a person," said every one, "he knows whether or not he'll recover."

Accordingly he was soon in great request. People came from far and near to consult him, and they gave him whatever he required, so that he made an immense fortune. Now, it so happened that the king was taken ill, and the physician was called upon to say whether he must die.

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